<---- Spam Museum, Austin Minnesota.
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you." 1 Peter 4:12
"Jacob left Bersheba and set out for Haran...taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with it's top reaching to heaven...There above it stood YHWH, and He said "I am the God of your father Abraham and the God os Isaac...I am WITH you you and will watch over you WHEREVER you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will NOT leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Gen. 28:10-15
Have I got a story for you. Actually, it's a story within a story within a story...and so on.
The last ten days have been extremely interesting & exciting for me. God has allowed me to see his faithfulness on display in ways that I never really imagined, and also with the usual humor that he approaches me with. All of it has given me a new, and I hope, deeper, understanding of what it is to experience God. I have hope that this will cause me to trust him more, and walk closer to him...especially during the frustrating times. (Which, according to Peter, shouldn't feel all that strange.)
First, I need to set some stuff up:
#1. "Frustrating times?!?!" Anyone who knows me knows that I have been in a deep funk since July. I have been frustrated at the lack of any decent career paths. I have been criticized and condemned by well-meaning people for certain things. Most of all, I have been very frustrated in my life of faith. I long to feel the presence of God on a very real & tangible basis every single day. Yet, I rarely seem to feel much at all. In fact, it feels like I have been in a desert for months now. "I mean, Jeez-louise, God! Where the heck are you???"
#2. "I'm a failure!" Four years ago I left my last teaching gig. I was denied tenure by a person who told me that he & I were not a good fit. (The most honest thing that man ever said to me in 3 years...and I'll just leave it at that.) He made me feel like I was not good at a my job, and so I left feeling like I had let all of my students down. To this day, I still want to be a teacher. I LOVE it. But ever since then, I question myself over & over if I can actually do a good job, and I wonder if this is why I can't seem to find another teaching gig. (But I'll come back to this later.)
So two Saturdays ago, my sister & I took a little road trip to S.E. Minnesota. Among the many sites we visited was the Spam Museum that you see pictured at the top. Seriously, it's so bizarre that it's well worth the visit. It's also terrorist-proof. The whole city is built on pork products. No self-respecting Jihadi would ever blow themselves up there.
So my sis & I popped in some podcasts to listen to while on the road. Turns out that the Imago Dei Community that I like so much are going through a series on the life of Jacob entitled "Wrestling with God." Surprise, surprise, this was exactly what I needed to hear.
I won't go into all of the thoughts that flooded my mind, but what dawned on me as I was listening was that God was very faithful to a plan that he had set in motion, that Jacob was central to...but that Jacob only had a very faint glimpse of. It dawned on me when Jacob first had an encounter with YHWH out in the middle of nowhere, it was another 20 years before he had another encounter that significant again. (Let me state that again: 20 YEARS!) Yet, God was still active, involved, faithful and WITH Jacob...even when/if Jacob couldn't figure that out.
Yeah, that kind of nailed me a bit. I've been frustrated for about 4-5 months...and I don't have Laban as my father-in-law. (Look up the info. on him yourself. This is my story.)
So, was God doing stuff all around me this entire time that I just couldn't see???
I thought a lot about that the rest of the trip. I am not satisfied with my current job. Yet, to be honest, there are a few people at that job that I have fallen in love with...and I mean that. I'm not talking about squishy, emotional, romantic love. I mean real, true Agape love. It didn't happen in a flash by any means. But little by little, Jesus has made me fall in love with them. I have to admit that when I actually pay attention, I can see the Spirit beginning to do what ever it is that he does in some of those people now. For some insane reason, Jesus decided to place me in this particular situation to be a sign post for his kingdom. I don't know if I am a very good one. But it does make me feel a bit more hopeful now that I see a purpose.
I could go on with this area for a long time,
but maybe in another post...
So the next day, I am at Living Waters for our service. Pastor Scott is preaching through the story of Joseph, and how God used everything, including the evil crap, to save not only Joseph, but many, many other lives. I've always been fascinated by what Joe tells his brothers after the death of their father. His brothers are worried that he will now seek revenge for all they did to him. (And they certainly did do evil to him.) Joe responds; "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Gen, 50:19-20
And that's when I saw it. (Here comes the "Joe is a crazy person" part) I didn't hear God's voice this time. Oddly enough, this time I saw a sentence written across my mind by him...yes, dummy, an actual sentence. It hit me like a wave and caused me to just shake & cry right there in my seat...
I just saw the phrase; "The story isn't over yet."
I think I can leave it there. You can probably figure out what it means as well as I did. (And I'm a natural Blonde!)
OK, so this next part will have more humor in it...I promise!
So my last year teaching at my school, I had the usual assortment off oddballs. (All At-Risk kids.) I genuinely care about all of my students, and like that vast majority of them. However, for some odd reason, there are a few students that my heart just gravitates towards. There have been actual times where I can honestly say that the Holy Spirit simply told me, "Go love that kid. They don't know what Agape is."
So it was with this one 14 yr. old boy. I had briefly met him the year before when a group of 8th Graders came for a visit. At that point, he was totally into the whole "Emo" thing. http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Emo <--- If you want a humorous look at that fad.) So I informed him that I would be out, and needed some fresh Emo flavor for next year. Sure enough, he came to our classes.
And now for the fun part where I tease him...
I shall refer to this student by a nickname I gave him, J.I.S. (He'll get the reference.) J.I.S. had these really funky eyes that could change color depending on the shade of his hair for that week. To this day, I'm not exactly sure what his real hair color IS. But I believe that through the school year, I saw it in every color imaginable except plaid.
Ooooooh, he's gonna kill me over this next part.
<--- This is a fine example of J.I.S. as a blonde...with semi-pink highlights. A good look for warmer weather when you have a tan.
<--- Here is a photo of J.I.S. showing off a more patriotic look. Blue hair, with some tinges of red.
<--- Finally, here is J.I.S. with black hair. In all three photos you will notice the importance of the hair sweeping across the forehead and over the eyes. This allows the bearer to achieve the maximum Emo-effect.
You might also notice that J.I.S. has "Snake Bites" in his lower lip. To my knowledge, he would pierce his own lips before school every once in a while. He would then proceed to my class and inform me that his mouth really hurt for some unexplainable reason. Naturally, we would both be baffled as to how this could possibly be the case.
For the record, I did try an encourage ALL students who were into piercing to try and set an even cooler fad with what I termed "The Spike!" All you need is a rail road nail and someone with a firm grip and large hammer. Pop that sucker from one side of your skull out the other, and you can tell everyone that you are far hipper & groovier than they shall ever be. (Sad to say, it never did catch on.)
This kid often drove me crazy. Sometimes, getting him to do his work was like pulling teeth. But I couldn't help but like him. One thing for certain is that I saw a whole lot more potential in him than he gave himself credit for. (And I hate wasted potential.) At any rate, J.I.S. had his share of struggles like most of the other kids. Among other things, I know that he was very hostile to God, and to Christianity in particular. I thought about and prayed for J.I.S. a lot...even after I was gone. But after a while, he kind of fell off my radar. I didn't know what had happened to him. (I'm goofy, but not stupid. I knew that he was into some bad stuff and naturally feared the worst.)
So a day after my sister's road trip...the day YHWH wrote that sentence in my head, J.I.S. got back in touch with me out of the blue. It's been 4 years since I had last talked to him. He said he really wanted to talk to me. So this past Sunday, I got to hang out with him and his new girlfriend. (Who I must say is cuter than cute...and makes me wonder if she has an older sister.) He told me that he was trying to find God, and he wanted it to be Jesus.
Whoa! I did NOT see that one coming.
So, was God doing stuff all around me this entire time that I just couldn't see???
And I thought; "I am WITH you and will watch over you WHERE EVER you go...I will NOT leave you until I have done what I have promised."
Apparently, I have a ghost, or at least a rather long shadow...and this IS the cherry on the top of the icing on the cake I have been eating these past 10 days. But first, I want you to think back to what I wrote near the top about me being a failure...
So I'm driving J.I.S. & his GF back home. J.I.S. tells me a story. It was the year after I had left. They had a whole new staff for our area. I didn't know any of them. They didn't know me. The only constant was that the less-than noble administrator who didn't think much of me was still running the show.
My former students were given a writing assignment for their English class. They were told to write an essay about their favorite teacher who had impacted & influenced them the most for their school careers up to that point. Apparently the teachers already knew something that I certainly didn't, because they also added to the instructions "And it CAN'T be about Mr. ------." (Which is ME, by the way.)
And I thought; "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go...I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised."
And I can't think of a more appropriate song to explain how I've been feeling during these last 10 days...
P.S. Guess whose coming to Living Waters with me this coming Sunday??? :)